The Jumex Collection art museum is located at a industrial plant in the rough-edged northern outskirts of metropolitan Mexico City, in the municipality of Ecatepec, in the state of Mexico. Initial access from a busy boulevard is gained through a guarded gate and then down a long asphalt drive. Then, through another guard post, then down a concrete walkway. No indication of any kind that Art is just around the corner. The walk would feel like it was pulled from some abandoned plant in Mike Davis’s Fontana when I visited on Saturday were it not for the huge party tent, soft colored lights, and the army of waiters buzzing about distributing brownies and tequila cocktails to partygoers.
It was the opening for “Brave New Worlds,” the ambitious exhibit originally organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, now on view at the Jumex plant. As people tend to do at such events, visitors walked through the show and gazed and considered. But this being Mexico City, this being an art scene well accustomed to extravagant partying, and this in particular being the Jumex Collection, you could sorta feel a lot of people were thinking, "Egh. Where's the booze?"
That's how openings are celebrated when hosted by Eugenio Lopez Alonso, Jumex owner and Latin America’s most prominent collector of contemporary art. Whether in vans provided by the Jumex crew or in private cars (often with private drivers), scores of art-hungry (and just hungry-hungry) guests arrived, whiling away the afternoon and evening on velvety couches that were organized in maze patterns under the tents and propped up by used wooden crate lifts that were left, cheekily, undisguised.
At a Jumex opening, part of the fun are the spectacles of dissonance. The bleak infrastructure of functioning industry against the decadence of gourmet food and fine spirits, along with little Jumex juice boxes, of course. The gallant display of concentrated wealth against the generosity of art displayed for the public good. Whatever public, that is, that makes the trek from the center of the capital to Ecatepec -- for more than an hour in unforgiving traffic.
The brave ones are rewarded handsomely. This opening felt like a wedding, consisting primarily of big crews of friends loudly taking in alcohol and dancing to garish Mexican pop music. Where was the bride or groom? If such a role existed here it would be played by the man everyone seems comfortable enough to call simply "Eugenio."
The mysterious magnate arrived casually late on Saturday looking sparkly clean and somehow untouchable. Indeed, it would have been impossible to approach the dapper forty-year-old. He was surrounded by cameras and bodyguards. And as Lopez made his way through the exhibit, cameras trailing, the ever-elegant Abaseh Mirvali, director of the collection and his foundation, never stood more than a few inches from his side, proudly showing him along. Then Lopez disappeared, or at least remained out of sight. It's the man's style.
The party, bravely, survived in his absence. I suppose Lopez might have been pleased, might just say that an opening at the Jumex Collection is not about him, it's about his guests, and about the art.
"Brave New Worlds" makes for a rich and satisfying serving. The show is a selection of works by 24 artists from 17 countries working from such bases as Berlin, Beijing, Los Angeles, Tangier, Oslo, Santiago, Tel Aviv, Kiev and Frankfurt. They are presented as "global citizen" artists who according to Walker curator Yasmil Raymond “use art responsibly” as they grapple with the new society that continues to violently morph around us, and with the implied and imagined worlds that new technologies, migrations, and mutations allow us to create.
This venue in Mexico City is more than appropriate. Hovering over everything is the realization that the viewer is in the sprawling outer wilds of the biggest city in the Americas -- at a juice factory. So you have Cao Fei's mesmerizing video pieces from inside a German light company plant in southern China, where the workers come very near to making magic among the monotony of machinery, flames, and fans: one doing ballet, another pantomiming. You have Jorge Macchi's "Nuevo Mundo," a reconfigured map of the continents, where the countries are grouped not according to their proximities and borders but to the arbritary colors under which they're coordinated. The Macchi collage "asks us to reconsider how these colors make assumptions about the coherency of each country — that is, that citizens share language, religion, and nationality," wrote Minneapolis blogger Christopher Atkins.
Out front, there's a Mark Bradford, "Analog," a majestic abstract collage-painting that suggests a darkening, digitizing dreamland. It is made with Bradford's trademark materials: bits of urban junk, artifacts actually, collected from the streets of South L.A. The piece is a strong symbol for what the whole show is essentially about: beauty and wonder found amid landscapes defined by disarray, consumption, isolation.
“Brave New Worlds” is also about light. How light is managed and manufactured, manipulated and filtered.
From the methodical clockwork of the light bulb factory in China, to the scorching sunlamp burning silently against a wall in the middle of the gallery (uncredited as far as I could tell), to the way light functions in Josephine Meckseper’s “The Children’s Crusade,” a display case sculpture of dismembered Americana, including among other things a photograph of late afternoon sunlight bleeding across a Bush era anti-war protest. The protest, like the warning sign to parents toting jittery kids, appears to be for sale. In this way, the artists in “Brave New Worlds” are as concerned with the chance collisions and wonderlands made in a globalizing society as they are with the quiet knowledge of our inherent smallness.
Take the final room in the main hall, a darkened box featuring photographs by Noguchi Rika, who was born in Japan and works in Berlin. Her photos suggest that appreciation for the light in the worlds we inhabit and the worlds we have created is still ultimately due to a single celestial parent, our universal life-force, our sun.
I’m tempted to make an analogy to the sharp if underappreciated 2007 thriller by filmmaker Danny Boyle, “Sunshine,” about a group of international scientists who are on a suicide mission in the future, charged with reigniting the dying sun. But that would be too psuedo-pop studies, and certainly too grim. And besides, I am in Mexico. Regional analogies abound. Here the Aztecs were so appreciative of the sun that they developed a religion that incorporated its worship.
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Unfortunately, they also sacrificed tens of thousands of people in order to, as they saw it, ensure the sun's survival. An adequate price to pay? I can’t say. I’m only a tiny human. (But Danny Boyle must have taken note.) I am merely here with Rika’s photos, showing the sun behind someone's shadow, in reflection, in direct confrontation with Rika's lens. The sun is behind you, or peeking through a square window in a room of dark and nothing, or straight ahead. They are the sort of images that recall the sensastion the sun can give you during those moments when you are very lonely, or very much in love.
* From the 2005-2006 series 'The Sun,' by Noguchi Rika.